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The Free Will Impasse

This essay discusses the concepts of entropy and negentropy used by Vilém Flusser in his philosophy of photography to delineate connections between science and art. If the act of finding order within chaos has always been a quality specific to human beings, the overwhelming role machines hold in our society casts shadows on human agency. Since the Enlightenment, humankind has carried on a regimentation of nature with the goal of finding a way of theorizing everything within it. In the same way, empirical sciences have studied and portrayed the world of phenomena according to the laws of the moment. Shifting from prejudice to prejudice, however, they have never succeeded in finding an all-inclusive theory. Their way of systematization was adapted to all other areas of life, imposing itself through the norms of capitalism and production, leaving little space for human beings. In this scenario, human beings become puppets or tools. In this context, the arts are called upon to develop viable strategies to counteract the overwhelming power of social and technological control.

Free Will (PDF 555.52 KB)

Até a terceira e a quarta geração: a experiência do holocausto como fundamento das teorias de Vilém Flusser / Unto the Third and Fourth Generation. The Experience of the Holocaust as the Basis of Vilém Flusser’s Philosophy / Do třetího i čtvrtého pokolení

This essay focuses on the fundamental significance of the Holocaust in Vilém Flusser’s life and thinking. In his still unpublished Até a terceira e a quarta geração (Unto the Third and Fourth Generation) written in the early 1960ies, the problem of Nazism is explicitly thematized and linked to the development of Western society. The abandonment of a religious view of the world in the Renaissance led to the loss of a grounding sense of reality, which was filled up by science (the new religion) and later on by nationalism. These developments eventually led to the First and the Second World War, as well as to Auschwitz and Adolf Eichmann as the ideal representatives of the apparatus and the functionary.

Della banalità del male (traduzione di Francesco Emilio Restuccia)

In this article, published in 1969, Flusser rethinks the concept of the banality of evil, which Hannah Arendt developed in her book Eichman in Jerusalem, in the chapter “A Report on the Banality of Evil” (1963). Unlike Arendt, Flusser is more interested in the trivial evil: the one produced by those who need to live with an apparatus (e.g. a factory or a school), even if they are responsible and well-educated. And given that nowadays, we increasingly cannot live without the apparatus, we should rather try to understand how we can be free with them.

Che cosa legittima la fotografia? La produzione di un incontro tra Flusser e Vaccari

This paper describes the meeting between Flusser and the Italian artist and theorist Franco Vaccari in 1985 and 1987, and focuses on the philosophical, epistemological, and ethical basis of photography. The text is linked to the interview with Angelo Schwarz and the pictures at the end of this issue (Flusser in Italy). “What legitimates photography?” was a question proposed in the context of the symposium Torino Fotografia 1985. Today, the question is asked to address the “encounter” between Vilém Flusser and the artist Franco Vaccari. The latter is followed by a magnifying lens looking at the documentation of the real meeting between the two in 1985, but without the intention of finding the “proof.” While for Flusser, the invention of photography points to the beginning of a Post-Historical era in which he examines concepts of freedom and responsibility by combining the notion of the apparatus with the experience of exile, Vaccari activates the apparatus, and at the same time, lets his work be activated by it. In this way, the responsibility belongs to the apparatus itself, and the concept of freedom becomes a modus vivendi in which the photographer uses the apparatus to create meanings and “has a chance to discover what he didn’t know.” This process is weaved in the essay with interventions by Roberta Valtorta, who offers a socio-political overview of the photography context in Italy, and Franco Vaccari, who carefully thinks about an open answer for what can legitimize photography, as well as a related essay by Angelo Schwarz, the original author of the question which gives the title to this essay. The question of the legitimization of photography unravels through a methodology that explores what photography “becomes” by calling attention to the “subjects” of photography—or, as Ariella Azoulay defined, “the citizens of photography.”

Vilém Flusser’s Theories of Photography and Technical Images in a U.S. Art Historical Context

In the field of U.S. art history, the photography specialization is fairly new and the discourse is dominated by a handful of voices like Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes, while Vilém Flusser has been virtually ignored. This essay examines the trilogy of “technical image” texts Flusser wrote in the 1980s—Towards  a Philosophy of Photography (1983), Into the Universe of Technical Images (1985), and Does Writing Have a Future? (1987)—and beyond these, locating the seeds of Flusser’s “photophilosophy” in his use of information and communications theory to develop concepts like “image,” “apparatus,” “program,” and “information.” It considers the U.S. art historical bias toward writers like Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, and the “control society” ethos of Gilles Deleuze and Flusser’s proposal that technical images and photography criticism could provide models for creative disruption of apparatus and finally, “human freedom.” Placed in the current moment, with its crises of environment, technology, economy, and geopolitics, this essay considers Flusser’s writing as a form of ethics and politics in which photography serves as a model for thinking about history, culture, revolution, and consciousness.

“The Lens is to Blame”: Three Remarks on Black Boxes, Digital Humanities, and The Necessities of Vilém Flusser’s “New Humanism”

This paper offers a brief exploration of Vilém Flusser’s proposed yet undeveloped concept of “new humanism” and argues for the centrality of the concept for a distinct ethical-political track that winds its way through all of his writings on communication, media, and technology, in addition to his explicit references to exile and nationalism. Because changing technologies circumscribe the field of possibility for human activity, the analysis of technology then becomes a matter of anthropology. By placing these questions at the center of his inquiries into communications and media, Flusser re-conceives the human subject itself, ensuring that his “new humanism” is not a return to any established version, but will reckon with the fact that technological development prompts changes in the definitions of the human itself. I also consider his demand for a new humanism an exemplary case for a relation to the master terms of the Enlightenment and humanistic investigation in the digital age, which persists after digitality even as they are recoded.

The Lens (PDF 288.12 KB)

É possível “hackear” a existência?

The purpose of this article is to broaden the application of Flusserian concepts by investigating the figure of the hacker as one who will replace the traditional figure of the revolutionary (as a historical agent). The hacker must be taken as a modus vivendi, a model of a daily practice required under the risk that we may be fully subsumed by the dynamics of the new context of post-historical relations.

Hackear (PDF 212.77 KB)

Estética da Fotografia: um diálogo entre Benjamin e Flusser

This article seeks to establish a dialogue between the philosophical aesthetics of Walter Benjamin and Vilém Flusser, by pointing out the various intersections and resonances relating the two thinkers in their unique vision of the place and role of photography in contemporary culture. For both philosophers, the photographic apparatus in fact operates a fundamental cut, a paradigmatic rupture not only in the universe of images and in terms of a visual ontology, but in our own way of being and being-in-world. It is not just a new image (mechanical, reproducible, multipliable), but a new apparatus, a medium that brings into play a series of perceptual metamorphosis by introducing new ways of feeling and perceiving the world. Therefore, radically transforming our relationship with the visible and its invisible counterpart.

Estética (PDF 363.64 KB)

Flusser an die Schule! Die Essays im Ethikunterricht

Does it make any sense to teach Vilém Flusser’s essays in the advanced courses of a secondary school? While all over Europe school subjects have increasingly been restricted by a formal frame, some precautions have to be taken in the interest of Flusser’s method and message. As a pioneer in the newly established subject of Ethics in the federal state of Hessen/Germany, the author tested the essays without a strict curriculum for more than six years. He gives an overview of general conditions at the school and offers a vivid personal record of his experiences. He then deals with Flusser’s phenomenological style and intellectual challenges for students and teachers alike. As this essay has a practical purpose, too, he shows the crucial points of relating Flusser’s way of thinking. Such training is worth the effort in the political context of 2011, when citizens all over the world are trying to regain some influence on political and economic structures. In the second part, the author presents a dozen of short essays and examines their interrelation, as they share the same subject. They center on Flusser’s well-known conviction that the exilee should consider himself part of an avant-garde. Some useful hints to a sequel or an alternative approach are provided. Excerpts from four student texts have also been included.

An die Schule! (PDF 752.78 KB)

A arte e o vazio da cultura

This essay explores the relation between art and culture by taking into account the profound ambiguity inherent in any artwork. This very ambiguity makes it possible to understand art works as part of a cultural process and as modifiers of this process.

Arte (PDF 194.03 KB)